I’d lost track of how long it had been since I last saw my therapist. I scheduled a virtual visit with her a couple of weeks ago though, because even though I’d been divorced for over a year, and separated another year before that, I am still really struggling emotionally. The emotional stress has taken a toll on me physically, and I wanted help processing some of the intense emotions I couldn’t seem to shake before I became truly physically sick.
It feels like divorce has changed me. It feels like I have aged ten years in two, in both the way I feel emotionally and physically and the way I look, to the point I sometimes almost don’t recognize my own reflection in the mirror. I have put on weight in my midsection (as in, the kind that comes from stress) for the first time in my life. My memory is in the toilet. My sleep is intermittent, and my dreams are riddled with stress and panic. I worry about my kids constantly. Worst of all is the guilt. I can see that my kids are thriving and happy even despite the pandemic, but I still worry the divorce traumatized them in some secret, horrible way that I just can’t see yet.
I’m the one that wanted the divorce. From the outside, our split looked calm; we almost never yelled at each other. But in reality, our arguments were just very quiet. For months, my ex-husband quietly insisted that since I was the one who wanted the divorce, since that was my choice, I should leave with nothing. For a year, I stayed in the house with him hearing this reasoning almost daily—that since I had made a choice, I deserved nothing. He said I should rent a small studio apartment down the street, and he would allow me to visit my children to take care of the “mom stuff.”
When his attorney confirmed that this is not how things go, that I would in fact be taking half of our net worth, my ex was furious. He became even more furious when he learned he would also have to pay child support due to the fact that I would have to continue to carry more of the parental responsibility than him due to his demanding and extremely high-paying job. He earns three times more than I do but did not want to help with the care of his children when they were with me. I was afraid to even bring up alimony even though my attorney said our situation more than met the conditions.
It took many months to get my ex to understand and accept that he was going to have to pay. That regardless of who wants the divorce, regardless of the reason, marriage assets are split down the middle. Every day, my ex lashed out in quiet ways, always with his underlying reasoning that since it was my choice to leave the marriage, to hurt him, to give up on us, that I didn’t deserve anything.
I had to remain in the house we shared for 12 months. I couldn’t buy a house until I had cash, and I couldn’t afford to rent. I was trapped with my ex who went back and forth between asking me why I wouldn’t have goodbye sex with him and reminding me that I didn’t deserve financial security. He never yelled, but he still succeeded in making my environment a living nightmare. 12 months of that will fuck with your head.
Still, because we resolved most of our disputes outside of court, I kept telling myself our divorce was not “that bad.” Moving out and getting my own place was supposed to help me feel better, but it didn’t. In the beginning, we tried to be friends. I would go over to his house and hang out, have a family game night. It was supposed to be something good to do for the kids, and they did love those get-togethers. But when the kids weren’t listening, my ex never failed to say something passive aggressive or to quietly remind me that I was financially dependent on him or that I “destroyed our family.” When I stopped agreeing to these fun little get-togethers, my ex got mad about that too.
And now, going over to the house I used to live in, the house where my children spend several days of every week, just the smell of it turns my stomach sour. It’s a house that my children call home, and I want to have good feelings about it, but for now I just can’t get out of there fast enough. Every time I go over there I’m reminded of all those months that I was told I deserved to suffer, that I didn’t deserve to have anything, that I needed to “learn how to be poor.” When his name pops up on my phone with a text, my heart rate shoots up and I feel like I’m going to vomit.
Looking back, I don’t know why I expected to be over all of this by now. In the moment I explained my physical reactions to going over to the other house, to receiving texts and phone calls, my therapist informed me I am technically still really early in the process. She said that even in the best circumstances, it takes two to three years to get over a divorce. She reminded me that in my situation, though it may seem from the outside to be a “best circumstance,” that I know the truth. My divorce may have been quiet, but it was traumatizing. It continues to be traumatizing.
And I’m only a year out. I am nowhere near done grieving this thing. I’m still in the mist of trauma and have only begun to process. I spent a year of every single day walking on eggshells and being told I deserve to suffer. My therapist gave me a much-needed reminder that I needed to give myself more time, be kind with myself, and understand that divorce is a traumatic experience. It is a major life loss unlike any other kind of loss, with layers of complicated emotions that require time to process and heal.
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